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RCA Research Centres, Students and Alumni Impress at London Design Festival

Royal College of Art research centres Sustain, the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and HELIX have major exhibitions of College-wide talent and innovation at the RCA's Kensington and Battersea campuses for London Design Festival (LDF), while students and alumni of the College are featured in exhibitions, workshops, talks and pop-ups around the capital, and alumni have featured strongly in awards throughout the Festival (Marjan van Aubel, Barber Osgerby and Concrete Canvas walked away with three of the four British Land Celebration of Design Awards).

At the Kensington campus, New Narratives: Sustain Show & Awards 2015 features work by 36 graduates from the Schools of Design, Architecture, Material and Fine Art. Now in its fifth year, the Sustain Show and Awards encourages and supports students in exploring social and environmental issues through design and art.

The works on display tackle such diverse challenges as ways to create renewable energy locally and the London housing crisis. Others have addressed the production of materials that are damaging to the environment: Carmen Hijosa, PhD Textiles, and Yurii Kasao, MA Design Products, both offer alternatives to leather made from natural by-products including pineapple leaves and jellyfish blooms.

Where is the Gold?, an exhibition of work from MA Jewellery & Metalwork students, is also on display at the Kensington campus. Gold is hidden or disguised within the works, prompting the viewer to consider the history of the precious metal and how we assign value to objects and materials today.

A third exhibition at Kensington, Apparatus for Domestic Rituals, features a series of deliberately playful and provocative ‘Ritual Machines’. These are an outcome of the ongoing research project Family Rituals 2.0, conducted by the College’s Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design in collaboration with Bournemouth University, Newcastle University and the University of the West of England. The project investigates the impacts of working away from home, the disruption this causes to family life, and the role design can play in this increasingly common situation.

At Battersea, On the Frontline celebrates innovative research projects from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design. These tackle important challenges, from problem drinking and paranoia in mental health, to independent living for people with arthritis and autism. Alongside the research outcomes, a series of documentary photographs by RCA Photography graduate Sara Hibbert, capture the Research Associates as they make their investigations on hospital wards, in clinics, in the home and on the streets. 

Taking place concurrently at Battersea is Include 2015, the 8th international conference on inclusive design organised by the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design. Alongside international keynote speakers, the conference features ten hands-on workshops, plus a gallery of 40 posters by early-career researchers on such themes as health and wellness, global challenges and emerging technology.

During the festival the award-winning Helix Studio, designed by RCA Architecture students and located at St Mary's Hospital, will be hosting a series of open studio events. These will offer visitors the opportunity to view this unique design studio and an exhibition of the projects that have taken place there. Visitors will also be invited to contribute thoughts and ideas to a discussion about innovation in end of life care.

Elsewhere in the capital, Design Products Graduated is showing at Machines Room, Lime Wharf as part of the festival’s Maker Mile. Works from recent Design Products graduates will be installed for the last week of the festival, showcasing the diversity in thinking, opinions and ideologies that are encouraged on the course. Not only will this offer the chance to see work from alumni, but there will also be workshops and a series of talks addressing factors that influence their work and practice.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum, one of LDF’s key locations, alumni of the RCA have contributed to several installations. Greeting visitors in the main entrance is Zotem, a kinetic sculpture by Design Products graduate Kim Thomé. Made in collaboration with Swarovski, the 18-metre, double-sided monolith is embedded with enlarged versions of the brand’s famous crystals, which are animated by a moving coloured mesh. Nearby, Ceramics & Glass alumnus Barnaby Barford has created Tower of Babel, an installation formed of 3,000 bone china shop fronts, which are based on shops Barford has photographed in London over the last year.

Amy Jayne Hughes, also a graduate of Ceramics & Glass, is the first Ceramics and Industry Resident at the V&A. During LDF her work will be on display in the Ceramics Gallery. In collaboration with manufacturer 1882 Ltd, Hughes has created work that takes direct inspiration from eighteenth-century porcelain wares, deconstructing and reworking them to appeal to today’s consumer. For the festival Hughes has also collaborated with Phil Goss and Jamie Jenkinson, both Visual Communication graduates, to create Three Vessels, which is on display throughout the museum. These seemingly innocuous objects require a camera phone to unlock hidden imagery, influenced by the form and décor of the vessels themselves.

Various alumni are presenting their work at Design Junction, a design showcase taking place in two venues on Southampton Way. Textiles design studio Wallace Sewell, formed by Textiles alumna Harriet Wallace-Jones and Emma Sewell, will be creating a pop up studio in the Victoria House. Ceramics & Glass graduate Alicja Patanowska also has a stall here, showcasing her ranges Plantation, Lab and Stratum, each designed to meet the specific needs of different plants. At The College, the other location of the fair, Haberdashery, a lighting design consultancy co-founded by Industrial Design Engineering alumnus Daniel Siden, are exhibiting. On display is a bone china hanging sculpture comprising of 1,000 hand-finished leaves adorned with 14-carat gold lustre, alongside a sound reactive light sculpture.

Events and pop-ups are taking place in Shoreditch Design Triangle. Matter, a new research studio and consultancy founded to explore the relationship between materials, ideas and processes, will be launched during the festival with a series of workshops and talks focused on the five senses. Will Yates-Johnson and Kyugum Hwang, both recent Design Products graduates, are presenting talks on touch and smell. Alumnus Alexandre Bettler is running a workshop at Leila's Cafe exploring ideas of value and currency through baking sourdough chapati coins. At Herrick Gallery, Design Products alumna Ariane Prin launches Rust, a homeware collection made from the metal dust left from key cutting mixed with plaster and eco-resin.

At London College of Fashion Mare Street, Studio PSK are showcasing their Polyphonic Playground. This adult sized, interactive, musical playground has been shown before in Miami and Milan, but makes its London debut during LDF. Working as part of Studio PSK, Visual Communication graduate Giulia Garbin and Service Design graduate Harry Trimble, have created this structure, which appeals to the forgotten joys of childhood play. Using custom electronics, woven electronic textile and Bare Conductive paint (developed by IDE graduates Matt Johnson, Bibi Nelson and Beck Pilditch), each element of the playground rewards users’ interactions with a sonic response.

Nearby at SPACE on Mare Street, takram, a design and engineering studio based in Tokyo and London, showcases a series of communication experiments, exploring the challenges of being detached geographically. The London based studio is formed of Professor Miles Pennington, Head of Innovation Design Engineering, with Design Interactions graduates Lukas Franciszkiewicz and Yosuke Ushigome, and Design Products graduate Renee Verhoeven.


Design Products Graduated, Machine Rooms, Lim Wharf, Vyner Street, London E1, 25–27 September, 10am – 6pm

Helix Open Studios, Norfolk Place, St Mary's Hospital, London W2, 25 September 12–6pm, 26 September, 11–6pm

On the Frontline, Royal College of Art, Dyson Building, London SW11, 17–25 September, 10am – 5.30pm

New Narratives: Sustain Show & Awards, Royal College of Art, Kensington, London SW7, 18 September – 2 October, 11am – 5pm